The term for Lautenberg’s vacant seat runs until November 2014. Christie had two options in how to fill it. Option one: Simply appoint someone to serve out the rest of the term and let voters elect a new senator on schedule next year. Assuming Christie appointed a Republican, that would give the national GOP an extra vote in the Senate for almost 18 months — granted, likely a moderate vote, but that’s still preferable to a liberal Democrat. Maybe the appointee would impress Jerseyans with his Senate record and would stand an incumbent’s fighting chance to hold the seat against Cory Booker next year. Or maybe he wouldn’t intend to run against Booker at all, which would free him up to vote as a conservative for the remainder of the term. Jersey Democrats threatened to sue Christie if he went this route, but as Ed Krayewski noted at Reason, he had cover from the state’s bipartisan Office of Legislative Services. Reportedly, they issued an opinion earlier today stating that the 18-month appointment would be just fine legally. Option two: Christie could throw all of that away by appointing a very short-term replacement for Lautenberg and scheduling a special election for sometime later this year. That would give Booker all kinds of advantages. Not only wouldn’t he have to face a GOP incumbent with more than a year’s experience in office, he also wouldn’t need to worry about his opponent having lots of time to fundraise. The risk to Christie in choosing this option was that it would bring all sorts of Democratic voters out to the polls on election day who might otherwise have stayed home. And that means Christie, who’s cruising to victory at the moment, could suddenly see his own gubernatorial reelection bid jeopardized by the big surge in Democratic turnout. All of which makes this a no-brainer, right? Appoint a Republican to finish Lautenberg’s term and trust that Christie’s big lead in the gubernatorial race won’t suffer too much for it. How angry could Jersey Democrats be if he appointed a Republican as squishy as he is? So which option did Christie choose? Option two, of course — except that, in order to protect his own ass electorally, he decided to schedule the Senate special election in October, not on election day in November. Now he gets the best of both worlds, all but handing the seat to Booker ASAP to burnish his “bipartisan” brand while ensuring that he himself doesn’t have to face the extra Democratic voters who’ll turn out to vote for Booker.
“I don’t know what the cost is and I quite frankly don’t care. I don’t think you can put a price tag on what it’s worth it have an elected person in the United States Senate and I will do whatever I need to do to make sure those costs are covered because all the people of the state of New Jersey will benefit from it. And we’re not going to be penny wise and pound foolish around here,” said Christie at a press conference.
“There’s no political purpose. The political purpose is to give the people a voice,” Christie said in announcing his decision today.
But there is political impact.New Jersey will elect a new senator Oct. 16 — a mere 20 days before the state’s gubernatorial election, in which Christie is the undisputed frontrunner for a second term.
That means Christie’s race will top the ballot Nov. 5, instead of a Senate race that could well feature Newark Mayor Cory Booker. The intense interest in the Senate race — in solidly blue New Jersey, in a race that could feature an African-American Democratic rising star — would have almost certainly siphoned votes from Christie.
Democrats teed off on Christie after his announcement at a news conference. The governor’s 2014 Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, called the governor’s move “cynical and arrogant” and said Christie “made it clear that he does not care about wasting taxpayer money.”…
Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, made that point when responding to the special election dates.
“Republicans have not won a Senate race in New Jersey in more than 40 years. Their only shot was an appointee who had a year-and -a-half to establish themselves before an election in 2014,” he said. “With this news I assume operatives at the NRSC are busy planning Christie’s defeat in Iowa and New Hampshire right now.”